The Law Society’s request to intervene in a forthcoming appeal centring on legal professional privilege has been granted. The case, between the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), could become a crucial test of what constitutes privileged material.
If the appeal goes the way of an earlier High Court ruling, businesses would have to hand over to prosecutors internal documents relating to criminal investigations. The decision, in Director of the Serious Fraud Office v Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, ruled that documents prepared for an internal investigation by ENRC into allegations of corruption were not protected by privilege.
ENRC strenuously denies the corruption allegations and says the High Court’s decision would penalise businesses that take responsible steps to investigate alleged wrongoing.
The SFO has come under fire from lawyers for ‘waginng a war’ against the concept of legal professional privilege. Last year, Law Society president Joe Egan said that without the protection of legal professional privilege, firms would find it difficult to conduct effective internal investigations. 'If the ruling is upheld, it potentially has the perverse effect of discouraging firms from self-reporting for fear of the consequences,’ he added.
City firm Reed Smith is instructing counsel Dinah Rose QC and David Pievsky of Blackstone Chambers for the Law Society in the case. It is listed for three days in the Court of Appeal from 3-5 July.